This is a rush transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," January 31, 2007, that may be update:
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: This is a FOX News Alert: the Dow soaring to a new all-time high, in and out of it, as the president becomes the first chief executive to visit the floor of the New York Stock Exchange since Ronald Reagan.
Now, it all happened on the very same day that the Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged. And, amid all of this scare in Boston going on, the president talks exclusively to me about this very, very hot economy.
CAVUTO: Good news on the economy, very good news.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, today, the fourth-quarter growth last year was at — in the fourth quarter of last year was 3.5 percent. Growth overall for the economy was — in the last year, was 3.4 percent, which is better than 2005. And, so, it is good news.
It's good news for workers. It's good news for entrepreneurs. It's good news for the budget. I'm pleased.
CAVUTO: But you don't get much press for that.
BUSH: Well, I understand. You know, we're in a — we're in changing times. We have got a war that we're fighting against extremists and radicals who would do us harm. We're in a major battle in that war in Iraq.
And it's unsettling times when you're at war. War's hard. War's difficult. It's negative.
And, so, I'm not surprised that some of the good economic news is overshadowed by the — the difficult news out of Iraq.
CAVUTO: But your father seemed to hint that, with all the bad press you get, when he said he would throw things at the TV, hearing it...
CAVUTO: ... that, even allowing for the war — take it out of the equation — you would still get bad press.
BUSH: Oh, I don't think so.
Look, I'm not — I'm a — I'm the kind of guy who just does my job as best I can. And I — what I'm more concerned about than anything is whether or not people are putting more money in their pocket — personal income was up by about 5 percent last quarter — you know, whether people are finding jobs, and — but, equally importantly, whether or not the policies we're working with Congress on will make this economy good, you know, in the future.
You know, I really don't worry about what people are saying about me.
CAVUTO: Even a little bit? When you hear stuff like "middle-class squeeze," "war on the middle class," "broken government."
BUSH: Well, I know the facts are what they are.
And it's the job of a dad and a mom to worry about the son. It's the job of the son to worry about the country and the people in this country.
CAVUTO: All right. Let's talk a little bit about where you are today.
You're in what they call "the land of the fat cats," the middle of Wall Street.
CAVUTO: Salaries among the top five brokerage chairmen, Mr. President, were, combined, close to $300 million.
CAVUTO: There is an effort on Capitol Hill, as you know, to rein that in and to maybe even partly legislate it.
What do you think of that?
BUSH: Oh, I don't think the government should be deciding salaries of CEOs, or anybody else that works for corporate America.
I do believe the role of the government is to promote transparency, so that shareholders will know the compensation packages of the executives that have been hired. And I strongly believe that the role of the CEO ought to be to enhance shareholder value. And that's what packages ought to be based upon.
CAVUTO: But, increasingly, these days, Democrats claim that they're not. And they point to Bob Nardelli, the former head of Home Depot, who leaves with a $200 million-plus exit package.
Is that fair?
BUSH: Oh I think — to me, it's up to the board of directors of American companies to regulate and to make decisions on behalf of the shareholders. That's — that's why boards of directors exist.
It'd be a — it's a big mistake if Congress ever gets in the business of deciding the salary level or the compensation levels of executives, corporate executives. What — but there is a role for the federal government, and that is to promote transparency. And, when somebody opens up an annual report, the description of the compensation package ought to be clear and easy to understand.
CAVUTO: But what happens — Democrats, like Barney Frank, for example, in the House, says: All right, either make the boards forcibly more accountable, and, if they don't do the job, make Congress make them more accountable.
BUSH: Well, one of the benefits of having an — a capitalist system, where there are shareholders, is that the shareholders should have responsibility and take responsibility seriously about holding their boards to account.
Corporate governance, it's — in order for the system to function well, there needs to be good, sound corporate governance. And, I believe, once Congress decides they're in the business of corporate governance, it will make — it will make it harder for us to grow our economy.
CAVUTO: Well, with all those eye-popping salaries, Mr. President, a number Democrats have said: Well, they can afford to pay more. The rich can afford to pay more.
CAVUTO: It's time to increase taxes on the upper income. What do you think?
BUSH: Well, that's the old — that's the old saw, you know, raise the taxes on the rich.
And, when you try to raise taxes on the rich, you also raise taxes on small business owners, sole-proprietorships, Subchapter S corporations.
You know, it turns out that these tax increases are going to have to reach fairly far down the income level to meet the spending appetite of the Democrats.
My attitude is, let's do what we're doing now, which is to keep taxes low on everybody who pays taxes, and watch how we spend the money, so as to keep the economy growing, keep revenues flowing into the Treasury, and balance this budget.
And, next week, our OMB director, Rob Portman, will be submitting a budget that balances the federal government's budget in five years.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you about Social Security.
CAVUTO: You touched that third rail, very bravely, and were burnt badly for it. Republicans wouldn't back you, Democrats were all over you. You said that it needed market-type reforms. Now they've come back this year, Mr. President, saying, you have to increase social security taxes.
CAVUTO: I mean, there was talk that maybe even your treasury secretary was entertaining that idea, to strike a deal on Social Security.
BUSH: Well first, let me correct you for a second. I don't think I have been burned for bringing up an important issue that I started talking about in the 2000 campaign, and have really addressed in every State of the Union address.
And the reason I say that, Neil, it's the job of the president to confront problems and call Congress to join — to join him in confronting those problems.
CAVUTO: They didn't.
BUSH: No, they haven't yet. And I'm not — I'm not surprised. It's hard — it's hard work. It's hard. And it requires political risk to stand up and say we are committed to working with the White House to solve the entitlement issue, whether it be Social Security or Medicare.
The interesting thing is, most people understand we have a severe problem. The fundamental question is whether there will be the political will necessary to address that problem. I have constantly said I'm going to spend — you know, I have got the political will to address the problem.
And I'm calling on others to join me. And I recognize they haven't done so yet. But we've got two more years to get them to the table.
CAVUTO: Do you think they will?
BUSH: You know, I can't tell yet. I can't tell yet.
CAVUTO: Because what they've been saying, sir, is they want to raise the Social Security income threshold. I think it's at $97,500 now.
BUSH: Yes. No, no, no. And, so, here's my answer to them: Bring your best ideas.
CAVUTO: So, you're open to raising that threshold?
BUSH: We will bring — well, we'll bring my best — our best ideas to the table. What I want is, I want people to come to the table. I have said we can solve the Social Security issue without raising taxes.
CAVUTO: But is raising the threshold, Mr. President...
BUSH: That's raising taxes.
CAVUTO: It is?
And I believe — and I have got a plan to show them how to solve the problem without raising taxes. That's my best idea. I want to see their best idea. And we can't even get the dialogue started. And, so, therefore, my — my — my claim to them is: I want to hear what you have got to say, and I hope that you hear what I have to say.
CAVUTO: All right, so market reforms would still be some of the things you're looking at. But a tradeoff would be maybe raising the threshold?
BUSH: Well, I'm not going to negotiate with myself here.
BUSH: But I — as I said, I believe strongly that we can solve this without raising taxes.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you, sir. You mentioned that the war in Iraq obviously is getting all the attention, not the good economy. And I'm wondering whether, even on that score, you're running into problems within your own party.
We had Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on, on the show the other night, Mr. President. And he said: This is the Iraqis' last chance. This needs to be successful over the next six to nine months, that is, your surge plan, as they're calling it, the additional 20,000-plus troops.
But he put a timetable, six to nine months. What do you think of that?
BUSH: Well, I think it's a mistake to put timetables on difficult missions, because an enemy can adjust. On the other hand, I certainly understand the urgency and — in Mitch's voice. I also understand the skepticism on Capitol Hill.
I mean, no doubt, there's a lot of pessimism there today. There's people saying, well, we just don't believe this can succeed.
And the best thing for me to do is to put a plan in place that is more likely to succeed than any other plan they have proposed, and have — and work to make it work.
I mean, speeches matter. You know, I have given a series of speeches on Iraq. I have given interviews on Iraq. But what ultimately is going to matter is whether or not the plan works on the ground. And — and that plans requires the United States reinforcing troops, so that we can help a young Iraqi government defeat sectarian violence — in other words, bring some calm to the capital, which will give space for a political process to develop.
Prime Minister Maliki has made some pledges to me personally. He's beginning to fulfill some of those pledges.
CAVUTO: Do you trust him?
BUSH: Well, I would, the — what matters is whether or not he performs. And trust is earned by doing what you say you're going to do.
CAVUTO: Would you say that he hasn't performed?
BUSH: I say he is in the process of performing. And that means...
BUSH: Well, let me tell you what that means. It means moving more Iraqi troops into — into Baghdad. It means going after murderers, regardless of their religious persuasion.
And, the other day, I was pleased to see that Shia murderers were brought to justice with Iraqis and U.S. forces side by side. It means that — going forward with the political reconciliation process. It means spending Iraqi money on reconstruction projects, both in Shia and Sunni neighborhoods.
And, in other words, these are the kind of benchmarks that he himself just talked about. And when he implements them, he will earn the trust not only of — of me, but of all Americans, and, more importantly, the Iraqis.
I mean, this is a guy who actually represents a government that was formed by people voting.
CAVUTO: All right, much more of our interview with the president of the United States, as we also follow developments in Boston.
What does the president think of terror? And what does he think of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's chances in '08?
And his reaction to criticism from now a senior Republican that he is not the sole decider on Iraq.
We are live on Wall Street with the president of the United States.
CAVUTO: Terror a very big issue with the president today — back to that right now, live from Federal Hall, downtown New York City, where I spoke with President Bush this morning on things like terror.
You know, he is the commander in chief. And he has certainly got members of Congress questioning his authority in this time of war.
I asked him how that made him feel.
CAVUTO: Senator Arlen Specter has said — a fellow Republican, Mr. President...
CAVUTO: ... that you're not the sole decider on these issues.
CAVUTO: What did you make of that?
BUSH: Oh, I made that he wants to make sure the legislative body has input into the process. And they do. They get to decide funding levels, for example.
And my hope is, of course, that they wouldn't — they would make sure our troops have what it takes to do the jobs that we have — that I have asked them to do.
By the way, General David Petraeus is, you know, our new general going to be there in Baghdad. He goes up and testifies on Capitol Hill. He says, we need more troops. And the Senate overwhelmingly supported his nomination to be the new general in command in Iraq.
And — and, you know, on the other hand, it looks like — you know, the fundamental question is, will they back him up? They voted for him. Will they back him up? Will they say, sure, we will give you the support you need?
But you shouldn't be surprised that members of the legislative body want to have input. And...
CAVUTO: But is it input or trying to stick it in your eye?
You know, the vice president had said of Chuck Hagel that he knows that Ronald Reagan had that 11th commandment, thou shall not criticize fellow Republicans. But he said of the senator, who is aspiring to be president, it's hard in his case.
CAVUTO: What did you make of that?
BUSH: Oh, I don't take any of this stuff personally. I really don't.
CAVUTO: Even a little bit?
BUSH: I — I truly don't.
Look, I understand. I mean, this — it's a difficult time on Capitol Hill. There are people who are doubtful about whether or not the strategy that I have come up with and decided upon, as commander in chief, will work.
CAVUTO: Yes, but they were all with you, Mr. President, when times were good.
BUSH: Well, that's...
CAVUTO: And even fellow party members, when times got difficult, they all abandoned you — not all.
BUSH: Oh, I wouldn't say — I don't feel...
CAVUTO: Does that...
BUSH: I don't feel abandoned.
And that's — I mean, what do you expect? When times are good, you know, there's millions of authors of the plan.
CAVUTO: That's right.
BUSH: When times are bad, there's one author. And that would be me. That's just — that's...
CAVUTO: Is that the toughest part of being the president of the United States?
BUSH: No. The toughest part is knowing that the decision I have made has put a young American in harm's way, and they lost their life. That is, by far, the toughest. And, you know, I live with that every day.
And — but my grief is not nearly as much as the grief of the family, who has lost a loved one.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you. Barack Obama has said that he wants all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by March 2008.
What do you say?
BUSH: I say that it's important to succeed, and that failure in Iraq will cause chaos. And chaos in the Middle East is exactly what an enemy that wants to harm the American people hopes for, because out of chaos will come the ability to recruit, the ability to have safe haven from which to attack, the ability to gain new resources and capabilities.
And what I would hope is, is that anybody in public office says, we want to succeed, and let's have a strategy for success.
And — and, so, I would respectfully disagree with that kind of timetable. And with — my admonition to those who are speaking out is, you know, let us back the troops and let us hope for the success, because it's in the interests of your children and grandchildren that we succeed in Iraq today.
CAVUTO: How do you think the troops would feel about a President Obama?
BUSH: Oh, I don't know. He, let's — he hasn't gotten elected yet. He hasn't even gotten the party's nomination.
BUSH: He's an attractive guy. He's articulate. I have been impressed with him when I have seen him in person. But he's got a long way to go to be president.
CAVUTO: All right.
The front-runner for that party's nomination, as you know, sir, is Hillary Clinton. And she's been very harsh on you lately. She says that: "The president said this is going to be left to his successor. And I think it's the height of irresponsibility. And I really resent it." She went on to say: "This was his decision to go to war. He went with an ill-conceived plan and an incompetently executed strategy, and we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office."
BUSH: Listen, I'm — that's why I'm increasing — asking to increase troops. That's why I'm sending more troops in there, to get the job done.
CAVUTO: But she voted for this.
BUSH: Look, I'm — she's not nominated either.
And one of the things that's going to be — that's going to happen here over the next year or so is, good-hearted souls like you are going to try to get me to become a political pundit. And...
CAVUTO: Feel free, by the way.
CAVUTO: Feel free.
BUSH: No, I — look, I have got too much on my mind to worry about the politics in either primary.
I'm — I want to make sure that, when I leave office, I will leave behind a better and a more secure America. And a secure America depends upon us helping this young government in Iraq succeed.
CAVUTO: But they're all running against you. And they're all running against you on Iraq. And, last time I checked, Mr. President, you're not on the ballot in '08.
BUSH: Well, look, I mean, ask their political consultants. I mean, it's — as I say, when times are good, everybody's an author. If times are bad, you know, there's — I'm responsible.
And I understand that. And I am responsible. I'm responsible for the decisions to go in. I'm responsible for putting the tactics in place to succeed.
And I believe the decision I have just recently made makes it more likely for us to succeed. It's important for us to help the Iraqi government shut down that sectarian violence in Baghdad. And, in order to do so, we needed more American troops. And this was the recommendation of the general we're sending there, as well as other people in the military who have analyzed this situation. And one of the things that's interesting, Neil, in Washington, is, there's a general consensus that we can't afford to fail. In other words, people understand the stakes. People understand that this battle in Iraq is different from other battles in the past, because, if we were to fail in Iraq, the enemy will come and hurt us here. That's one of the lessons of September the 11th. And, so, people understand the stakes.
What I listened to carefully, when I was asking for opinions there in Washington was: Well, if you understand the stakes of failure, what is your plan for success? What do you intend to recommend that would be successful?
And I analyzed every plan put forward. And the one we came up with is the one that is more likely to succeed.
And all I said in the State of the Union was, give this a chance to succeed.
CAVUTO: All right.
Would the president pardon those two border agents?
CAVUTO: Welcome back, everyone.
I'm here at Federal Hall, in the shadow of where the Twin Towers once stood — the president reflecting on 9/11 and the heroes of that day.
CAVUTO: You mentioned 9/11. You're only a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero.
CAVUTO: And I know you're going to be meeting today with Cesar Borja, whose father passed away, he says of 9/11-related illnesses. And he claims that you have not done enough — the government has not done enough — to take care of first-responders on 9/11.
What do you say?
BUSH: Well, first, I — I'm going to thank Cesar and his family for raising an important issue. And, at the same time, I will tell Cesar his dad's a hero.
And I truly believe those who rushed into harm's way were heroes. And they ought to be honored. And I also believe that they ought not to go without health care.
If they were on that pile, and if they were first-responders, they need to get help. And one of the things that our — Cesar will be briefed on is, you know, in the line-item in our budget, we have got federal money to help make sure that people don't go without health care that — that were on the pile.
CAVUTO: All right.
Now, Hillary Clinton says it should be a lot more: $1.9 billion.
What do you think of that?
BUSH: Well, I think we're going to work with the Congress to make sure that, you know, that those folks who went into harm's way don't go without health care.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you. You provided a great deal of money, Mr. President, not only for 9/11 victims, but New York City — tens of billions of dollars...
CAVUTO: ... as you did after Katrina. And then you're blamed for how that money is spent or not spent, when, essentially, it is passed to local and state officials to handle.
CAVUTO: So, you're blamed for something that maybe you're not responsible for.
BUSH: Well, that just happens when you're in politics, sometimes. I mean, it's — when the heat gets on, sometimes, people like to shift the blame.
And, you know, I worked with the New York delegation and the Louisiana delegation.
CAVUTO: And both said they had enough at the time.
CAVUTO: They had enough money. And they were going to...
CAVUTO: ... allocate the resources you provided.
BUSH: Right. And...
CAVUTO: And now they come back at you and say, wait a minute.
BUSH: Well, we will listen to every request, of course.
But, you know, in Katrina, we put $110 billion out there. Some of the money in — at the federal level has, you know, evidently been slow to move. But our people are very cautious to make — in the sense they want to make sure the money is, you know, well spent, and deserves to be spent on the projects necessary.
We spent a lot of money down to Louisiana for housing and — because I felt it was very important for the local folks to be involved with the housing decisions.
CAVUTO: But is it just, bureaucracy moves slowly, can't happen? Is it a fault of anyone in particular, or just, that's bureaucracy?
BUSH: Well, I think the — I think the federal bureaucracy responded pretty quickly for Katrina and New York.
BUSH: We set up the funds. We put people in place. The moneys were spent. The moneys were distributed.
BUSH: And where there is — I mean, look, I'm confident there are some places where the money has been slowly spent. And we're constantly listening to members of the Congress to make sure that we're able to free moneys, if the bureaucracy is, you know, withholding money or slowing up the expenditure of money.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you, sir, about the ex-Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, both serving time in jail for shooting a runaway Mexican drug dealer.
Would you pardon them?
BUSH: You know, I get asked about pardons on a lot of different cases. And there's a procedure in place. And what I told members of Congress who have written me or called was to just look at the case, look at the facts in the case.
And people need to understand why these folks were sent to trial and why a jury of their peers convicted them. And that's, of course, what a president does on any pardon request.
CAVUTO: So, what are you saying?
BUSH: I'm saying, I would look at all the facts. And — but there is a process in any case for a president to make a pardon decision. In other words, there is a series of steps that are followed, so that the pardon process is, you know, a rational process.
CAVUTO: Well, they're in jail now. They're not going anywhere.
BUSH: Right. That's right.
CAVUTO: ... as things stand now, they will stay in jail.
BUSH: As things stand now, they will serve their sentence, right.
CAVUTO: Unless you interfere.
BUSH: Right. But what I'm trying to tell you is, is that it is — there is a series of steps that are analyzed in order for the Justice Department to make a recommendation as to whether or not a president grants a pardon.
CAVUTO: And we're not at that yet?
BUSH: No, we're not at that stage yet.
CAVUTO: Back here in New York, a few blocks from ground zero, thinking about maybe the next threat to America, like what could be going on in Boston, it could indeed come from Iran. And a new report suggests that it could come faster than we think.
Today, the president responds.
CAVUTO: Iran — there's a report out today that says the country is maybe two, three years, max, away from an atomic bomb.
BUSH: Nuclear weapon.
We take their threats very seriously. And we have got, you know, several serious issues with the Iranian government — not with the Iranian people, but with their government. One, of course, is their interference in Iraq. And I have made it very clear that we will protect our troops and protect innocent Iraqi people.
Secondly, I believe the best way to convince the Iranians to give up their nuclear-weapons ambitions is for the world to work in concert in sending Iran a serious message.
And, you know, there's been a Chapter 7 resolution out of the United Nations. Some in America say: Does that matter? Well, I think it's beginning to matter to the Iranians, that they're becoming isolated, that they're missing economic opportunity, that their economy and their country could do better if they weren't isolated by the world.
And, so, we're spending a lot of time keeping that diplomatic initiative strong, and clearly stating to the Iranians: You don't need a nuclear weapon.
But this is a serious problem, and we take it seriously.
CAVUTO: Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is going to be taking over a lot of businesses by the end of the week. He will effectively be a dictator. And you have urged that U.S. companies affected be compensated.
If they are not?
BUSH: Well, it's a hypothetical. My worry, of course, is that the nationalization of industry will make it harder for the Venezuelan people to be lifted out of poverty, will make it harder for the people to realize their full potential. I'm concerned about the Venezuelan people.
And I'm worried about the diminution of democratic institution, as well as — as well as nationalization efforts that may or may not be taking place.
CAVUTO: Is he a — but is he a military threat in our own hemisphere?
BUSH: I think the bigger threat is a — is the diminution of democratic institutions, that democracy and its institutions yield peace, and it provides hope for people.
Precisely what we're trying to do in the Middle East is to replace, you know, forms of government that don't give people the chance to express themselves and realize their potential with forms of government that do.
And, so, I am concerned about the undermining of democratic institutions. And we're working hard to help, you know, prevent that from happening and strengthening democratic institutions.
CAVUTO: Finally, Mr. President, on a personal note, you're low in the polls.
CAVUTO: You have got a great economy. You're trying to protect the American people, try to prevent another 9/11. You have succeeded at that in the five-plus years since. You're not getting a lot of thanks for that.
Do you ever think about: I can't wait until, I don't know, mid- afternoon, January 20, 2009?
BUSH: No, not yet. I mean, I'm — I have got two years to go, and I'm going to sprint to the finish. I have got too much on my mind to worry about, you know, standing in the polls or what life's going to be in 2009.
I'm — this may come as a shock to you, but I have found this to be an exhilarating, joyous experience. I love representing our country.
I — you know, I guess I could try to be popular. But I have always found that somebody who tries to be popular is one who may end up compromising principle. And I'm not that kind of person, Neil. I base decisions on principle. I will change tactics, but I'm not going to change my principles to try to become, you know, momentarily popular.
But it's — you know, this is a job that you make the best decisions you can make to protect the American people and grow this economy. And I'm going to keep — keep making those decisions until the day my successor is sworn in as president.
CAVUTO: Any bet who that's going to be?
No, you see, there you go trying to...
BUSH: ... trying to get me to be one of those political pundits.
CAVUTO: All right.
BUSH: You have got plenty of political pundits on your TV station.
CAVUTO: There you go. Absolutely.
BUSH: Thank you, sir.
CAVUTO: ... thank you very, very much.
CAVUTO: All right.
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